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“Yeah, well,” he said, “Roy was one of a kind.” To change the subject, he pulled the foil back from the pie and took a whiff. “Smells good.”

“Tastes better.” A couple of long, silent seconds ticked past, then she said abruptly, “Have you always wanted to be a rancher?”

“For as long as I can remember.” He took her arm and steered her down the long hall toward the back of the house. “Let’s get to the kitchen so I can grab a fork.”

They walked through the dining room, past a wide table long enough to seat twelve comfortably and through a door into the kitchen. Beside him, Jillian stopped dead, gasped in astonishment, then turned a slow circle, looking all around.

“What is it?”

She held up one hand for silence and murmured, “Just, wait. I’m having a moment here.”

Her features told him she loved the room. The walls were a soft blue, cabinets were white and the countertops were black granite. In front of the bay window was a round pedestal table and matching chairs where Jesse usually ate since the dining room was too huge for a man alone. The appliances were all top-of-the-line stainless steel. Over the built-in gas stove was a copper range hood and in the middle island was a second sink and Jesse’s favorite part of the kitchen, an indoor grill.

“This is…amazing.” Her voice was low and breathy, as if she were in church. She took a step farther into the room, reached out one hand and stroked her fingertips across the black granite. Looking back at him, she said, “I have serious kitchen envy. What I could do with—It’s a dream kitchen. Like something you’d see in a magazine.”

He chuckled, moved past her and set the pie down on the center island. Yanking open a drawer, he pulled out two forks. “Glad you like it. And it’s funny you should say that about a magazine kitchen. That’s exactly what this was.”

“What do you mean?”

He turned to a cupboard, took down two plates and then grabbed a pie slicer from another drawer. “When I was building this place, Lucy showed me a picture of this exact kitchen in a magazine. So I showed it to the architect and told him I wanted it.”

She blinked at him and laughed a little. “I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone who would—or could—do that.”

He shrugged. “It’s a kitchen. Don’t really use it all that much, except to make coffee and to keep my beer cold.”

“Oh, God…”

He looked up when she moaned. “The best part of the whole kitchen, to my mind, is the grill there. Most times when I come in at the end of the day I’m too tired to cook, but I can always grill. Toss a steak on there and I’m good.”

“That’s practically criminal,” she said softly.

“What?” He looked at her.

“To have this fantastic kitchen and only use the island grill?” She shook her head again. “Criminal.”

“Well, don’t arrest me until I’ve tried the pie.” He cut two slices, plated them, then carried both plates to the table. “Come on. If you don’t have some I’ll wonder if you poisoned it or something.”

She followed and sat opposite him. Outside, twilight lay across the ranch and shimmered on the raindrops pelting the window. Within minutes, darkness would drop like a curtain. “I would never ruin one of my pies with poison.”

He grinned. “Good to know.”

It felt good, sitting there with her in the dying light. Talking with her. Seeing her smile. Lust still clawed at his insides, but there was another part of him that was enjoying this moment. “Okay,” he said, lifting his fork. “Moment of truth.”

“I’m not worried.”

“Confident,” he said. “I like it.”

He took a bite of the pie and the minute it hit his tongue, Jesse groaned quietly. Spices exploded in his mouth, combining into flavors like he’d never tasted before. He chewed, swallowed, then took another bite.

She grinned. “Told you.”

When he could, Jesse said, “You’re a witch or something, right? This is incredible. Seriously great.”

She seemed to practically glow under his compliments and he had to wonder about that. “Thank you,” she said, taking a bite of the pie herself. “It’s my grandma Rhonda’s recipe. She taught me.”

“Like I said earlier, it’s all about learning from the best.”

Her smile widened. “She really was, too. The best, I mean.”

“Got to see a lot of her when you were a kid?”

“She raised me,” Jillian said simply in a tone that told him she wouldn’t welcome questions.

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